* Some 22 nuclear reactors will reach 40 years old by 2022
* EDF wants to extend reactors lifespan to 60 years
* Heavy investments needed in short, medium term
(Updates with quotes, reactions)
PARIS, Jan 31 France has no option but to
extend the lifespan of existing nuclear plants, because any
investments in new nuclear capacity or an increase in its
reliance on other forms of energy would be too costly and come
too late, the French Court of Audit said.
The French independent government body, which is charged
with conducting financial and legislative audits, said in a
report that a lack of investment decisions to build new reactors
meant there were few choices left.
"In the absence of investment decisions, an implicit
decision has already been made that commits France either to
prolong the reactors' lifespan beyond 40 years or to quickly
change the energy mix, which implies more investment," said the
report on the costs of the French nuclear power sector.
By the end of 2022, 22 out the 58 reactors in France, the
world's most nuclear-reliant country, will have been in
operation for 40 years.
The report, published on Tuesday, said that if the reactors'
lifespan was limited to 40 years, this would mean having to
build 11 new-generation reactors by 2022.
"Putting in place such an investment programme in the short
term is highly unlikely, even impossible," it said.
Greenpeace said the failure to make any investment decisions
in the past is resulting at higher financial costs and putting
the population at risk.
The failure to invest is "in total contempt of the nuclear
safety authority (ASN), which is the only authority entitled to
decide whether to extend the lifespan of reactors," said Sophia
Majnoni, who is in charge of nuclear at Greenpeace France.
State-owned utility EDF, which operates all of
France's reactors, has said it aims to extend their lifespan to
60 years, but there is no official limit to their functioning.
The bulk of French reactors were built in the 1980s and 1990s.
The Court of Audit also said that to maintain the current
level of electricity production, heavy investments would be
needed in the short and medium term, including a doubling of
maintenance investments, which would in turn push production
costs up by 10 percent.
The Court recommended that the choice of the future of the
energy mix should not be made in an implicit manner but that a
strategy should be explicitly elaborated, debated and adopted.
French energy minister Eric Besson said in a Twitter post
that even if the costs of nuclear power rose by 10 percent, it
would remain the cheapest form of energy after hydro-power.
UNCERTAINTY ON FUTURE COSTS
The Court of Audit said French nuclear companies, including
Areva and EDF, had taken into account all costs
related to nuclear energy but that there was still a great deal
of uncertainty regarding future costs.
"This uncertainty cannot be lifted for the moment, because
we have not gone through the concrete experience of dismantling
reactors or putting in place the deep burial of radioactive
waste," Didier Migaud, the head of the Court of Audit, told a
France's nuclear energy waste management agency (ANDRA)
pegged future costs for storage at 35 billion euros in 2010, up
from 15 billion euros in 2005, with a new cost level to be
announced at the end of 2012.
EDF's investments costs to upgrade the reactions could reach
3.7 billion euros per year, including work imposed by ASN
earlier this month to prevent a nuclear disaster such as Japan's
Fukushima accident, the report added.
The report's conclusions echo a leaked draft government
study on Monday, which said that extending the life of France's
reactors would be a cheaper investment option to 2035-2040 than
building any type of new power plant.
The leaked government study on energy scenarios for France
until 2050, due to be published in its final form on Feb. 13,
shows that such extensions would cost 680 million to 860 million
euros per reactor.
That would compare to the roughly 5-6 billion euros
($6.56-$7.87 billion) it would cost to build a new-generation
reactor such as the 1,600 megawatt EPR reactor constructed by
The Court of Audit report, commissioned by Prime Minister
Francois Fillon in May 2011, comes as France's reliance on
nuclear power has become part of the country's presidential
campaign in the aftermath of Japan's nuclear disaster in March.
While the ruling UMP party plans to maintain the country's
nuclear share of 75 percent in the electricity mix, the highest
in the world, socialist candidate Francois Hollande said he
would bring down that share to 50 percent by 2025.
Hollande, campaigning against President Nicolas Sarkozy, has
said that if elected he would close France's oldest plant,
Fessenheim, toning down earlier plans as part of a pact with the
Green party to shut 24 reactors by 2025.
The Fessenheim plant, one of 19 across the country, houses
two 900-megawatt reactors.
France first opted for a full-blown nuclear energy programme
with minimal public debate after the first oil crisis in 1974
and continued to support nuclear power after the 1986 Chernobyl
($1 = 0.7625 euros)
(Reporting by Benjamin Mallet; Writing by Caroline Jacobs;
Editing by Muriel Boselli)